Wisdom//

Changing the Culture of Business From the Inside Out

You need to change your "lunch room mentality."

Courtesy of GaudiLab / Shutterstock
Courtesy of GaudiLab / Shutterstock

With Rachel Sklar, Co-Founder of Change the Ratio, The Li.st

Kiersten Barnet, Global Head of Gender-Equality Index at Bloomberg

Susan Lee, Chief People Officer at SeatGeek

Tony Prophet, Chief Equality Officer at Salesforce

A company’s culture is deeply ingrained. It is more than just a company’s stated values or priorities; it is really the set of processes, attitudes, and behaviors shown by the employees collectively. This is why it’s so hard to change — you can’t just say your company values diversity and expect a culture of inclusivity to take hold.

Often, we tend to think that change can only come from those at the very top; however, the research shows that much of the impact on changing the culture of business comes from middle managers, first time managers, and those coming up the ranks. In this panel, we’ll discuss the truth behind how these cultural changes need to happen at all levels, and how we can create an environment where these managers are supported in their quest for a more equitable business world.

Whose Responsibility is it to Create an Inclusive Culture?

In the past, we’ve looked to company leaders to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and wants to stay at the company for the long haul. Our panelists note, however, that just by virtue of being a leader, you maintain a level of privilege that changes the way your employees view you (and your attempts to create an environment that’s welcoming).

This means that it’s everyone (at every level)’s responsibility to foster a culture of inclusivity, and here’s why:

  • The world is changing. “10 years ago,” Susan Lee says, “the term ‘gender fluidity’ never crossed my mouth. Facebook now allows you to choose from 51 options to share how you identify. No one person at any one level of a company can have all the answers, or the questions.” It takes many different people with many different backgrounds and experiences to contribute to a company if you want to be truly inclusive. Listen closely to them and allow them opportunities to contribute to the company in meaningful ways.
  • Your clients will start to demand it. As the customers you serve become more diverse, they are going to need people at your company to understand their experiences and their needs. You need diverse perspectives at every level of the company to serve your customers best. You’re going to fall behind your competitors if you don’t address this.

Inclusivity Starts with the Data

The Bloomberg Gender Equality Index exists because, “as investor demand for ESG products increases, the index represents an important opportunity for companies to attract new capital and widen their investor base.”

So in other words, the more gender equal a company is, the more appealing it is to investors. This is not surprising as diverse companies show higher returns. While it is a business imperative to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces, many companies already know that they have unequal workplaces and are hesitant to report their diversity data.

Kiersten Barnet, the Global Head of Bloomberg’s Gender Equality Index says, “Diversity has historically been something that’s graded on effort and nothing else. Now, stakeholders are actually looking for results. Transparency has become the new indicator of whether a company is taking diversity seriously.”

“For some reason when companies talk about working on gender parity, they hold the cards close to their chest.” Kiersten continues, “The best thing they can be doing is measuring this data and saying ‘We’re working on it.’”

After all, measurement is the first step toward progress, and a way to hold people accountable.

Tony Prophet says that Salesforce gives each leader in the company who has 500+ employees report to them a scorecard every month, which has data on it, including:

  • How many women you’ve hired
  • How many attritted
  • How many were promoted, and more.

He says that this way, since the data is measured in small increments of time, patterns arise more easily and you can make changes before it’s a bigger problem within that leader’ department.

… and it Continues with PB&J’s(the Value of Rituals)

Susan Lee is really really into the concept of sharing rituals within your organization to foster an environment of inclusion — and for good reason.

“We found that our diverse people were leaving the company at 3x the rate of everyone else,” says Susan, “A lot of it had to do with, ‘I don’t see people in leadership who look like me,’ but so much of it is that lunch room mentality — like, ‘I just don’t belong here.’”

“If you don’t have your house in order, it doesn’t matter who you’re inviting to sit at the table,” says Susan. You can hire as many diverse people as you want and continue pouring resources into hiring these people — but if, when they arrive, they feel like they don’t belong — they certainly will not stay. Then you’ll have to start all over again.

Then Susan had an idea.

“I thought about the ritual of my family sitting down for dinner every night and how I felt like I belonged there,” she says, “So It was National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, and we brought in all these different types of jelly and marshmallow fluff, all of it. Everyone started having all these conversations about the sandwiches: ‘Do you cut it diagonally? Your mom did it this way? Wait, you’ve never had fluff before?’ That really brought out commonalities across the board, got people talking, made them feel like they had this shared experience.”

“Creating rituals allows an environment where everyone belongs, regardless of how different or similar we are,” says Susan.

Recognize Identity, Don’t Deny It (the “We don’t see color” argument)

There’s more to changing the culture of business than creating an environment of inclusion at your company. Often the rhetoric that surfaces when company leaders try to foster an inclusive environment is this whole “We don’t see color” concept, which is dangerous because instead of making people feel included and a part of something, it erases their identity all together.

The overall goal, Susan Lee says, is to “Create an environment where everyone, no matter who you are or where you come from, has an opportunity to develop, succeed, get promoted, and become a leader. If that’s your target, then you’re going to include everyone.”

To give people these opportunities, however — you have to hire them first. And hiring managers are on the frontlines of bringing in people from many different experiences and backgrounds. How can we change the current model so we’re actually bringing in qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds, if diverse candidates historically have less access to good schools, internships, scholarships, and more?

Tony Prophet says straight out, “We need to be hiring for capabilities, and not pedigree. At Salesforce we often ask people, ‘Who here actually used calculus today? Who needs to quote Socrates in their current position?’ Classical education teaches these things but what really makes someone successful in a job are things like communication, collaboration, and using creativity.”

Susan Lee adds that hiring managers shouldn’t “Hold precious old processes. You might be used to scanning resumes for big name employers/schools, but that’s not actually necessary for an entry level CX role, for example.”

“We pay people more because they come from a certain background, a certain school that not everyone has access to. As a recruiter, you can challenge the current process and ask, ‘What are the actual requirements for the position?’ instead of ‘Let’s hire on things that don’t matter to this position.’”

And lastly, everyone has bias. It’s important that everyone recognize it exists within them. “Let’s make sure the hiring team makes sure they know that they have bias,” says Susan, “It’s not about what the bias is, it’s about admitting that we come to the table with it and it’s going to inform our decision making.”

Businesses Need to Lead the Way, Not Government

“Culture is the hardest thing to change, and the hardest thing to measure.”

Kiersten Barnet, although knee deep in data, knows that it’s not just as simple as recording data to make businesses more inclusive. It takes getting the right people at decision making tables and once you make that decision, keep your foot on the gas. Sometimes it take singling certain situations out and addressing them, so someone takes the lead.

You can offer 12 weeks of paid parental leave, but, “If you are offering benefits to your employees and they’re not taking them, that is an indicator that there is something in your culture that is sour,” says Kiersten. At her company, they had to single out a few managers and tell them it was OK to take advantage of specific benefits the company offered them. Other people noticed, they set an example, and that communicated a lot to the entire company.

Lastly, you need to listen to your employees. As Susan Lee says, “Susan Fowler, tons of people with the #metoo movement went to the company when they had a problem and no one there listened. It’s an environment and time when people are tired of being quiet, so they will go to someone when they have a problem — and many times, it’s the press.”

The government is taking notice, too. New quotas and legislation designed to make businesses more fair and equal are starting to take shape — and as Susan says, “You’re in trouble if the government is ahead of you on these things.”

It’s up to business leaders to set good examples, listen to their employees, empower hiring teams to do the right thing, and above all be competitive. Competition drives innovation, and if you’re not a competitive employer, where the most talented people come and develop as professionals, putting forth their best work every day — your competition will be.

Watch the live stream recording of this Mobilize Women 2019 session, made possible by RBC Wealth Management – U.S., here.

Originally published on Ellevate.

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